Bristol Renaissance Faire Event

Posted on August 4, 2011 in Blog Post, Exhibitions, News, Plein Air Painting

What an adventure last weekend was. The temperature was ridiculously hot, high 80’s to mid 90’s both days, not much cloud cover, just direct punishing sun. Fortunately the Faire offered a good deal of shade.

I arrived a little after 9am and stopped in the office to check in and pick up my artist kit. The organizers furnished us with a black apron which had the logo for the charity and the Faire on it, as well as a map, a pamphlet, and some food vouchers. I met Julia, and some of her staff, who were all very friendly and eager to see what we’d paint. After dropping this off at my truck, I did a walk-thru with my camera to see the grounds. It had been eight years or so since I was last in Bristol, and I couldn’t believe how much had changed in that time, they’ve really added to the grounds. It took awhile to get my bearings. The staff and cast were milling about, preparing for the crowd, which entered at 10am. I was able to scout around and set up before the bulk of the visitors got there.

“Around the Bend” 11″ x 14″ oil on panel. For the first painting I chose a spot that was looking slightly up hill at a cottage like building that sold wooden swords and bows. It had an interesting arch and was situated at an odd angle to the buildings beyond it. Between this was a square in which was a canopied ride for the kids. In the foreground the trees were casting shadows across the path. I managed to get my panel in shade, but by doing so I ended up in direct sun for the first three hours. Despite drinking a large bottle of water, by the end of this one I probably had mild heatstroke, and took an hour to cool down. I refilled my bottle with ice water, then found some shade and a beer to take in the scenery.

“Dirk and Guido” 11″x14″ oil on panel. After some food and more walking around, I ended up painting a view of one of the larger stages. This stage featured an acrobatic team, the Swordsmen show and a great Celtic band that headlined that evening by the name of Tartanic. I managed to set up just as a crowd was dispersing, and by the end of the painting I hand a whole new crowd sitting patiently still as they took in the show. I was still a bit out of it, there were things I think I would have done differently if I was more with it, but Plein Air is all about dealing with the environment. I was thinking about doing another painting, maybe a small 8×10, but I overheard someone saying that the place closed at 7pm, it was already nearly 5. I decided to pack up my kit and take in a show. The band was great, all drums and bagpipes, and an amazing dancer.

I drove back to the studio to shoot the work I did, not terribly satisfied with it, I decided I would make an early day of Sunday, getting there well before the crowd arrived to work on another piece. By the time I got home I was very dehydrated. Pretty much ate, cleaned my brushes and went to bed.

I manged to get to the place a little before 8am, I was up early but not moving quickly. Most people don’t realize how physically draining painting can be. Standing still for hours at a time with your arm raised can kill your shoulders and lower back. My calves were sore from the hiking too.

By the time I got to the grounds, I knew what I wanted to paint. I decided that morning to tackle the canopied ride that I saw the day before. The shape was interesting and there was another interesting tent just behind it in the same square. I found just the right spot, and with an hour and a half before the gates opened, I set to work. I had a custom-sized frame in mind, so the panel was an odd size – slightly more square than the format I used the day before. “And the Wheel Turns…” 11 5/8″ x 13 5/8″ oil on panel. This one turned out pretty well, the brushwork and color was very much what I intended, and after some initial corrections to the drawing, everything pretty much fell into place.

We had until Noon to turn in our finished pieces. From these the organizers would choose two for sale in the auction. These were to be on display from 1-4pm at the Costwold Commons, a building that had a small garden with picnic tables and a cash bar. When I finished the last piece, it was already 11, and I knew it would be tight trying to get another painting in before noon, given that I had to lug all my gear to the truck first to frame the piece, so I stopped at three paintings. Julia chose the first and the third for the auction, but held onto the second piece, thinking that the performers might be interested in it. I’ll find out about that in a week or so.

With time to kill, I went on walkabout with my camera, trying to stay cool and enjoy the park. I was quite exhausted at this point. I’m preparing a slide show of the reference photos I took, should have that posted next week sometime.

After running into a handful of friends, I headed back to the exhibition space. This talented young lady was our bartender and minstrel, playing Celtic tunes on her violin. Her accent was a little too perfect to be fake, I learned that she was actually from Gallway. I found out later that she was actually in the band Tartanic, but because the stages at this festival were not amplified, she didn’t play with the band as she would never have been heard over the drums and pipes.

I sat for an hour or so in the shade, speaking with some of the artists and staff, greeting a few more friends who showed to support the event. Then I decided to run back to my car for a sandwich and a change of shirts before the auction began.

On my way back to the auction, I ran into my old student Paul, who bought me a mead. I wish I had remembered that they sold mead there sooner, it was delicious. After talking for a bit, I sat down to hear the proceedings.

As I arrived at the auction, the “human easels” were parading the paintings about the crowd, trying to drum up interest. I think this part of the event could have been done much better. They then lined up in front of the stage to display the artwork and take center stage as the barker announced the work, title and artist, and the bidding began. There were a total of 16 participating artists who came up with 20 pieces. I think the temperature got to most of us.

As you can tell by these photos, the crowd was pretty sparse. I think the promotion of the event could have been done a lot better. First, I would have passed out handouts and had signs up for all the weekends preceding this event, as visitors walked in the door. Second, I would have had signs up all around the grounds letting people know when and where the event was to take place, as well as more about the charity that would benefit from it. Last, I would have made sure the barker mentioned what the average price was for each artist, so they had a better idea of how valuable the paintings were, and how much the artists discounted their regular prices.

My pieces came and went, and unfortunately no one bid on them. I think most of the bidders were staff members who were featured in the paintings. There were a handful of dedicated bidders who spent a good deal of money on several paintings. I think in the end they raised around $900 for the charity. The proceeds were to go towards purchasing an adaptable bike for a disabled child. Dirk and Guido the Swordsmen actually out bid a lady in a fierce bidding war, then gave her the painting outright after winning it. A class act, those two.

After the auction, I picked up my paintings, packed up and headed home quite exhausted. A fun time, but the heat was very tiring. They did invite me back to participate next year, and that’s something I’m looking forward to. It’s an interesting experience to see the place come alive, before the crowd of visitors get there, and there’s no end of interesting things to paint.